Lullaby was an Editor’s Choice for me when it was published in January 2018 and this, Slimani’s actual début—published in France under the title Dans le jardin de l’ogre—is just as riveting. We follow Adèle, a married mother-of-one who works as journalist in Paris and hides a secret. She is compulsively drawn to sex with strangers, an addiction which, on the one hand, seems certain to destroy her life and, on the other, makes her feel truly alive. A dark and unsettling examination of sexuality told in Slimani’s distinctive stripped-back prose.
...if it does not probe quite such dark places in the human psyche as Lullaby, it explores many of the same questions about the psychological damage done to women who fail to meet society’s expectations of them, and with the same uncompromising urgency.... One admires Slimani's bravery in creating a deeply unsympathetic character and then demonstrating why we should give her our sympathy nonetheless, but, hemmed in by the author’s need to make a point, Adèle the novel and Adèle the woman never really come to life.
Sex addiction can easily be dismissed as a laughing matter, but this gripping novel by Leila Slimani (a follow-up to her international bestseller Lullaby about a nanny who murders the children she looks after) reveals the grim reality of compulsive sex, "her obsessions devour her. She is helpless to stop them."...Adele is a woman of contradictions who can have sex with a total stranger in an alleyway yet fear that strange men might rape and attack her. Fear is constant - fear of being found out, fear of not getting what she wants and fear of getting it. Slimani never lets us really know why Adele is compelled to have increasingly dangerous liaisons with strangers, just that it is not a choice.
Her character is absolutely unsympathetic, yet strangely compelling... Slimani has a sparse, almost simplistic style, translated beautifully into English by Sam Taylor, which makes it easy for the reader to face her unusual themes. She has claimed that she does not set out to shock her readers, merely that she deals with topics which fascinate her, in a bid to explore characters she does not understand. It is difficult not to wonder what might come next.
For an unsexy book about sex addiction, you can’t do much better than Leïla Slimani’s Adèle... There’s an enviable clarity and forthrightness to Slimani’s writing, both in French and in Sam Taylor’s capable translation... In the 19th-century novel, Madame Bovary included, female characters are given two possible outcomes – marriage or death. Slimani’s novel refuses both, choosing instead an ending in which it cannot be said precisely what has happened to Adèle...
There is, it becomes clear, something schematic about the form this novel is taking. We are being presented with a privileged view of a thoroughly unlikable woman. The curious enjoyment of the novel is that we look over her shoulder as we read, willing her to say no, to have some sense of self worth, to show some empathy with those she says she loves, only to have her defy our every wish. Above all, we are being called upon to judge Adèle. It would be impossible to read the details of her life without reaching a decision about her character. Is she fiercely independent or in thrall to men? A determined risk taker or a pathetic addict?
Slimani’s novels are hard to categorise. They combine the pace of the thriller with the flatness of tone that we might associate with Michel Houellebecq, or indeed with Camus and Robbe-Grillet. Like those writers, Slimani is drawn to revealing the hellishness of the ordinary and the ordinariness of hell. But this isn’t social satire or commentary. Class and race matter – in Lullaby the employer was of north African descent and the nanny white; here Richard is upper class, Adèle working class...In many ways, Adèle is a modern-day Madame Bovary, but the book itself has less in common with Flaubert than with the sensation novels that Emma Bovary reads addictively. Slimani is trying to shock, arouse and titillate us with extreme mental states. Addiction makes a good subject for her because Adèle’s desire to live a fantasised version of her own life seems to mirror Slimani’s desire to write sleek, fantastical prose, not quite committing to building a three-dimensional world.
From the bestselling author of Lullaby comes this new and equally sharp-edged literally tale about love, desire and female sexuality...erotic fiction at its best.
Adèle is a brilliant and bothersome book. The story itself is not new, but Slimani has birthed an everywoman anti-heroine who is both timeless and shockingly contemporary. Readers of Slimani’s last novel, the bestselling Lullaby, won’t be surprised that the author has not crafted any characters that are especially or obviously likeable. Yet Adèle is strangely and irresistibly appealing, to her conquests and to readers... This is a polarising novel, but it contains important truths about the way women live and think. It deserves a broad and broad-minded readership.
Adèle’s self-destructive promiscuity is never adequately explained. Sometimes it seems like straightforward nihilism, sometimes an addiction, sometimes it even feels philosophical (“that magical feeling of actually touching the vile and the obscene, the heart of bourgeois perversion and human wretchedness”).Adèle is hamstrung by Slimani’s lack of psychological investigation and her indecision about why Adèle is the way she is. It is best enjoyed (and it is enjoyable) as spritely, spirited, bourgeois-shocking juvenilia from one of France’s most interesting contemporary writers.
My blood ran cold while reading French author Slimani's bestselling debut, Lullaby. Now she returns with a story about an eponymous Parisian journalist who appears to have it all - apart from sexual satisfaction. An erotic tale of compulsion an desire.
The 37-year-old French-Moroccan author has published here another artful, melancholy book, presenting a complex picture of modern womanhood. With shades of Madame Bovary and Gone Girl, it’s the novel most likely to divide your book club this year... Slimani is a fearless writer who pulls back the curtain to show what secretly thrills and terrifies women... Her uncompromising style is her strength and weakness... It’s still a riveting and psychologically rich novel, its final pages particularly stirring... It’s a story that will strike a chord with many women.
Slimani’s slender, elegantly written and translated novel is filled with such disturbing images, and her capacity to shock will come as little surprise to readers of her previous novel, Lullaby, which opened by revealing the brutal aftermath of the murder of two small children. And in that novel, too, she took us into the painful, tumbled vortex of female subjectivity, with its complex trade-offs between obligation and appetite, its desire for liberation tussling with the question of what that liberation might yield... Adèle is a tough read, but a bracing one; little concerned with reader-pleasing narrative treats, but provocatively enigmatic.
Slimani is one of the few contemporary authors — along, perhaps, with Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy — writing intelligently about motherhood today.The source of her discontent is never made clear... Yet the tight pacing and spare style that had readers hooked to Lullaby is still here. It might not have the same shock factor, but this quieter novel looks at loneliness, shame and the search for independence in a way that is just as thrilling.
Slimani evokes the “prosaic vulgarity” of these dismal couplings in unsparingly lucid prose, elegantly translated by Sam Taylor. She finds images for Adèle’s howling loneliness in the objects and decor that witness her adventures... In taut, lithe prose, Slimani’s novel digs for the roots of that sorrow and that fear. Its clarity only deepens its compassion. Yet a sense of mystery abides. Out of that darkness, the “shadow” behind Adèle, Slimani has made a tender and troubling novel rather than a psychiatric tract.
Although the misery is universal, this story is uniquely, and often amusingly, French... Possibly because of the book’s Frenchness, nothing about Adèle’s behavior is pathologized until the very last pages... If the central idea of the book is a fascinating one, the prose is not always impeccable. Dialogue can be flat. Clichés are abundant. Still, I liked this earlier novel much more than “The Perfect Nanny,”... Adèle has glanced at the covenant of modern womanhood — the idea that you can have it all or should at least die trying — and detonated it.
Slimani is obviously not Gillian Flynn. She may have an affinity for the lurid, but her true interest is in who these women really are. And while The Perfect Nanny ends up with infanticide and Adèle with something far more ambiguous, it’s the former that manages to lay a firmer grasp on universality. Well before the book’s grisly ending, the middle-aged nanny becomes a symbol of the exhaustion of motherhood and the impossibility of do-overs, a character worthy of sympathy. The first impression Adèlegives, however, is perhaps its most effective: The English translation never uses the word “nymphomaniac,” but it’s hard not to roll it around in one’s head and wonder why it’s not considered grossly misogynistic in common parlance. It’s the sort of thing Slimani is likely to draw out from her readers by steeping them so deeply into the psyche of her seemingly depraved women. There is no great twist in Adèle, and perhaps even no ultimate judgment.